Indigenous People are More Than their Dance

The LDS church recently released an inspirational short reminding us that it’s not enough for us to slavishly follow rules or instructions, but that we need to feel into the reasons for our doing what we do. On the surface it Screen Shot 2017-05-08 at 5.22.51 PM makes a lovely point.

However,  the story was set in the context of a boy learning to the hear the rhythm of the music that accompanies a Navajo hoop dance.

The LDS Church has a pattern of appropriating cultural practices as ways of communicating its religious messages. For instance, the PCC does the work of public relations by sharing an LDS message through a narrow experience of Pasifika music and dance.   I’ve had years of watching Native performance be used to please and titillate visiting authorities who then tell us ‘how much we love the…  people’ – as if dance is enough to know a people.  Yet, I have never heard one single church leader acknowledge the politics or the historical traumas of indigenous people and their ongoing struggles to decolonize and reclaim the past that was made unavailable to them through colonisation.  I have never heard a single leader speak in sympathy to any indigenous people or those suffering from the deleterious effects of colonization. Dance and music apparently are enough for them to know the world’s people.  Like the colonial overlords of the past they are ushered into the best seats where they get to consume Native performances put on for their enjoyment and benefit.  It’s a cruel and demeaning that anyone group’s identity should be thus reduced.

But here lies a  further cruel irony. Once inside the LDS church, it becomes apparent that the cultural practices that make us distinct and unique – our traditional economies and knowledges; our traditional cosmologies; our desire to defend our right to use our language and to express our politics; our efforts to innovate and adapt the church message to accommodate our cultures; and our activism to keep our land and sovereignty –  are not welcome.

We have been asked time and time again to forego our unique cultural identities and the politics that seek to keep our people alive and thriving in favour of a ‘Gospel Culture’. But on close examination that Gospel Culture looks suspiciously like Utah Mormon culture.

The ‘Do You Hear the Music’ video is lovely but not trustworthy. The LDS Church is a cultural colonizer that empties indigenous people of their knowledge and history allowing us to only show up as Mormons in traditional dress with fun dances for the consumption of the White Utah visiting patriarchy.

So, I would ask the LDS Church to please refrain from using selective Indigenous contexts to tell its faith promoting stories – unless we get to tell our whole stories of colonial systems (including religious ones) that have depleted our identities and have sought to turn us into imitations of the white American Utah Mormon middle-classes.

 

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